“There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.”
—Laurell K. Hamilton, Mistral’s Kiss
What is trauma? The word trauma has two different contexts: physical and psychological. For our purposes and at our practice, we specialize and focus on the latter. Psychological trauma is an emotional response to a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. Sometimes physical trauma leads to psychological trauma. In whichever context, in everyday language, when trauma occurs it is shocking and can be emotionally overwhelming. And no one is exempt from being traumatized. It can happen as a result of sexual abuse, military service, a car accident, emotionally abusive relationships, traumatic childbirth/pregnancy, parental neglect or absence, chronic stress, racism, vicarious trauma, trans-generational trauma, ritual abuse, religous/spiritual institutions (also known as “church hurt” for some), cults, surgery or other medical situations, relocation, captivity, developmental or attachment challenges, group sanctioned bullying, and more. Our point in sharing this exhaustive list? We want to help you see that trauma is not just one thing. It’s layered, complex and can be hard to navigate. We get it.1
“We have a pandemic of childhood trauma.”
**In February 2019, COVID-19 was introduced and knocked the world to its knees. We are living through a worldwide pandemic and over 600K people have died. That is traumatic in and of itself. The isolation has been a challenge. The loss has been palpable for everyone. But, thanks to the vaccine, the world is opening up and attempting to get back to “normal.” What does that even mean? We’ve been apart so long and the fear of human touch has been ingrained so heavily, the idea of regular, human contact is stressful for some. COVID changed our ideas about personal boundaries. It forced us to reevaluate our need for others just to get through it. We made due. But that process was not easy and has left some people without a blueprint for how to get back to or even create a new, new normal. That can be traumatic.
In June of 2020, the world banned together in an unprecedented way to rally against police brutality after the murder of George Floyd. Even while still in the midst of a pandemic, around the world there were marches, protests and community led events that created the spark that led to the fire which seemed to melt away the shroud that had been covering the eyes of those who couldn’t see the extent to which racism has plagued this country, America, from its inception. And, while the awakening has been helpful in lots of ways, the heightened level of awareness of the dispensability of Black and brown bodies has created an even higher level of anxiety, stress and trauma for some. We are in America with you. We get it.
Most people will be exposed to various traumatic events throughout their lifetime. After these experiences, some people may encounter post-traumatic stress symptoms, PTSD. Most of the time when we hear that phrase we think about soldiers coming home from military service. And that wouldn’t be incorrect. However, PTSD can be experienced by anyone who has experienced trauma. For soldiers and civilians alike, PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that is marked by a person’s inability to recover after a trauma.2
What are some symptoms of PTSD and trauma:
- Avoidance of situations that are reminiscent of the trauma event
- Heightened anxiety, reactions and/or depressed mood
- Unwanted memories of the event
- Emotional numbness
- Foreshortened future and feelings of hopelessness
- Shame and self-hatred
- Decreased interest
- Physiological hyperarousal
- Psychomotor agitation
- Decreased concentration
We’ve discussed the different types of trauma and their origin. Now, we want to delve a little deeper into the why of trauma therapy so that you can see (1) if it’s right for you, and (2) the benefits of making the decision to say yes to it.
How do you know if you need trauma therapy?
There are all sorts of technical terms that we could use that discuss the cognitive, behavioral and physical signs that would indicate unhealed trauma and that you need trauma therapy. But our job isn’t to be fancy – it’s to help! So, here’s a more clear cut answer to the question of when you know you need to come and see us for trauma therapy. Come when life gets too hard! Earlier we listed quite a few symptoms of trauma. If you are experiencing any or a combination of those and they persist over a period of over 6 months, it may be time for you to come and let us help you try to get over the hump.
There’s nothing wrong with you, or your need for therapy. If anything, your decision to come says that you are in a healthy enough place to be able to recognize that something isn’t quite right, and that you care enough about yourself to fix it.
“The big ‘Aha!’ moment is that trauma never goes away.”
How is trauma therapy different?
Trauma therapy is different because it does not force you to do a deep dive into the memory of the trauma(s) that you have experienced. The goal of this therapy is not to re-traumatize you. Instead, trauma therapy uses one or a combination of these targeted treatments:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): focuses on the relationship between thoughts, feelings and behaviors. This therapy’s focus is to help you to change patterns of behavior that lead to better life functioning.3
- Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT): the focus of this therapy is to work with people to modify and change unhelpful beliefs related to the trauma.4
- Prolonged Exposure (PE): This therapy teaches individuals to gradually approach trauma-related memories, feelings and situations. The goal is that our clients will walk away being able to dissociate from avoidant behaviors, and understand that trauma-related memories are not harmful and do not need to be avoided.5
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): An individual therapy that encourages a specific type of eye movement while a traumatic experience is briefly revisited. The goal is a reduction of vividness and emotion associated with the trauma memory.6
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy: a combination of cognitive-behavioral techniques toward developing emotion regulation and reality-testing
, this contributing toward distress tolerance, acceptance, and mindful awareness.
- Internal Family Systems: This model of therapy focuses on the theory that everyone’s psyche contains sub-personalities, or “parts”, and in therapy we attempt to explore these parts to achieve healing of various presenting issues.
- Psychodynamic psychotherapy: Based on Freud’s theories of psychoanalysis this form of talk therapy examines how one’s childhood experiences may be contributing to one’s adult plight/crisis.
We hope that we have provided you with enough information to decide if trauma therapy is right for you. If and when you do need us, we are here.